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I Never Sang for My Father

Marsha Mason delivers a stand-out performance in this mostly lackluster revival of Robert Anderson's dysfunctional family drama. logo
Keir Dullea, Matt Servitto, and Marsha Mason
in I Never Sang for My Father
(© Suzi Sadler)
The Keen Company's current revival of Robert Anderson's 1968 drama I Never Sang for My Father, now at Theatre Row, is a surprisingly lackluster affair. Fortunately, Marsha Mason and Matt Servitto provide enough of a pulse to make Jonathan Silverstein's uneven production watchable.

Mason, a four-time Oscar nominee, manages to bring a variety of emotional pitches to her role as the long-suffering wife, Margaret Garrison. Not only does she seem to truly inhabit her character, but Mason provides welcome moments of unpredictability to what, even 40 years ago, was probably a fairly predictable if heartfelt script. (It should be noted that Mason looks a bit too robust and energetic for the frail, 78-year-old Margaret.) One simply wishes Mason had more to do in the play.

As Gene Garrison, the narrator of this memory play, Servitto has a few moments of posturing that prevent the audience from fully engaging in his character. But, for the most part, his performance is quite solid and grounded. He's very good at letting his (and our) frustration against his stubborn and irascible father, Tom (played by Keir Dullea) build until those times when it comes pouring out full-steam. Unsurprisingly, some of Servitto's finest scenes are with Mason. The one in which Margaret quietly probes her son about whether he has a happy sex life is a joyfully uncomfortable and thoroughly charming moment.

Unfortunately, Dullea only skims the surface of his role. He seems to be unaware that since the playwright has more-than-fully provided all the overbearing aspects of the character, the actor's job is to get underneath all that and to help us understand why Gene would sidetrack so much of his life trying desperately to love this infuriating old man. Instead, Dullea is all attitude, playing Tom as if he were a character on a sitcom.

Rose Courtney fares little better in the small but pivotal role of the daughter who Tom cast out of his life years before. Conversely, Hal Robinson and Melissa Miller do a fine job in bringing in a sense of multidimensional subtext that this play desperately needs to work against Anderson's occasionally clichéd dialogue. Robinson is particularly terrific in a handful of supporting roles, but since he plays so many different parts, his entrances sometimes inspire inappropriate laughter from the audience.

There are other moments in which aspects of Silverstein's minimalist production work against the script. Scenic designer Bill Clarke and lighting designer Josh Bradford collaborate on the simple set by flying a half dozen ceiling lamps shrouded in black gauze to create different settings. While some of these quick changes, in conjunction with Will Pickens' sound design, effectively transport us back into Gene's troubled memories; more often, they merely intrude on the flow of the piece.

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